According to a report by Medscape, wrong site surgery errors occur approximately 40 times every week. This number is alarming and demonstrates the level of risk that patients endure when undergoing a surgical procedure. The reasons for the high percentage of mistakes are numerous and problems persist even as prevention efforts are made.
Wrong-site errors manifest in a number of different ways. Doctors may operate on the wrong side of the body. For example, a physician may replace a left hip, though the right hip was scheduled for surgery. Errors can also occur on the correct side of the body, but in an incorrect location. The surgeon may operate on the wrong toe of the correct foot or an incorrect muscle. Lastly, the National Institute of Health (NIH) advises that the incorrect procedure may occur. The physician may mistakenly perform a muscle resection, rather than a recession.
Reasons for Wrong-Site Errors
The report lists various causes for the prevalence of wrong site errors:
***Problems and mistakes within the surgery scheduling process
***Errors occurring throughout the pre-operative phases
***Ineffective communications among surgeons and support staff
***Distractions that divert the attention of the surgeon within the operating room
***Similar patient names leading to procedure mistakes
***Incorrect spelling of procedures or misusing abbreviations
***Failure to adequately mark the surgical location
***Time limitations that lead to rushed procedures
Fixing the Problem
The NIH explains that correcting the problem of wrong-site medical errors is essentially a matter of putting safety checks in place. Since the problem is mostly seen in connection with one of more mistakes, implementing safeguards would help to catch the problem before it results in a wrong-site procedure.
One doctor is quoted in the Medscape article as stating, “We found that in 39% of cases, errors were introduced that increased risk. The biggest was inadequate information about the patient. Often, the information is taken by a staffer in the surgeon’s office, who may have to deal with several hospitals and different protocols. Confusion can result.”
Some proposed solutions to the problem include:
***Involving the patient in the process of marking the surgical location on the body
***Involving all surgical members in the process of marking the surgical location on the body
***Creating a preoperative checklist that includes review of the patient chart directly before surgery begins
***Implementing a “timeout: before surgery to ensure the location of the surgery spot and the agreement of all parties.
***Hospital administrators fostering an environment where errors and mistakes are regularly reported and openly discussed among the staff
***Reiterate the importance of using correct abbreviations
***Barcoding offers a computerized process of double checking for accuracy and preventing surgical errors.
When these wrong-site errors occur, the legal system is key to ensuring that responsibility is taken and victims are adequately compensated. Most wrong-site surgical errors occur within the areas of orthopedics, neurosurgery and dental surgery. However, no medical operation is immune from the risk.
If you or a family member have been injured by a wrong-site surgical error, call an experienced malpractice attorney for tailored guidance.
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